- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 20, 2003

In A Fiddler’s Tale: How Hollywood and Vivaldi Discovered Me, Louis Kaufman, with Annette Kaufman, foreword by Jim Svejda (University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95, 448 pages, illus.) readers learn about a violinist of great gifts, remarkable achievements, and, judging by his detailed descriptions of events and people over an 80-year period, prodigious memory.

Louis Kaufman (1905-1994), like almost all great violinists, was a child prodigy. But unlike other gifted children, Kaufman was fortunate enough, for a brief time, to escape the stultifying, often claustrophobic world of classical music studies by playing violin as part of a musical vaudeville act. This is not to say he neglected his studies — for eight years he was a student of Dr. Franz Kneisl, one of the great teachers of the time. But the vaudeville tour helped give Kaufman a perspective on music that served him well in the years ahead.

For the rest of his life Louis Kaufman was open to opportunities that other violinists might ignore as beneath their dignity or beyond the scope of their rigidly limited repertoire. His standards were high, but his range of interests was wide. He was an elitist, but never a snob.

From the 1934 version of “The Merry Widow” to “The Agony and the Ecstasy” in 1965, Kauffman, as soloist or concertmaster, played the soundtrack music of just about every great Hollywood composer, including Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, John Williams, and Kaufman’s good friend Bernard Herrmann. His interest in different kinds of classical music led him to champion, and record (often when no one else would), the music of forgotten composers of the past and neglected geniuses of his own time.

It may be difficult to imagine today, when the music of Antonio Vivaldi is ubiquitous, often to the point of being maddening, but before Louis Kaufman recorded “The Four Seasons” in 1949, the music of the Italian genius held no secure place in the repertoire of most violinists. Kaufman was a fierce defender and proponent of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s music at a time when many critics dismissed the gifted operatic and classical music composer as a mere “movie music” hack.

Somehow, in a life jam-packed with performances, study, international travel, movie music jobs, reintroducing works by Vivaldi, and knowing everyone in the world of music from Mischa Elman to Aaron Copland, Kaufman found time to became a knowledgeable collector of modern art. Annette Kaufman, his beloved wife and adviser for over 60 years, prepared the book for publication. The book includes a CD of various Kaufman performances.

There was once an Eden in America, and its name was Kentucky. In the early-18th century, hunters from Virginia returned home from the land just across the mountains and told tales of innumerable buffalo and deer, and miles and miles of fertile, unclaimed farming land, all there just for the taking. Because of British imperial politics, settling in Kentucky was forbidden to the colonists, and the dream of Eden was at first not realized.

But the urge to move on, the desire to begin life anew, and a lust for land led the colonists in western Virginia to ignore the commands of men who lived far away and knew nothing of the realities of their lives. One of those colonists was Daniel Boone, who, by his exploits, became one of the most famous Americans in the world (Lord Byron devoted seven verses to Boone in “Don Juan”).

Daniel Boone: An American Life by Michael A. Lofaro (University Press of Kentucky, $25, 248 pages, illus.) is a fascinating and enlightening book that places the legendary Boone in the context of his times and shows how he helped shape those times. Boone didn’t “discover” Kentucky—other white men had been there before him. But his innate sense of leadership, his uncanny ability to fight, learn from, and earn the grudging respect of hostile Indian tribes (they had legitimate reasons for being hostile), made him the man everyone thought of first when the frontier was mentioned.

Mr. Lofaro, Professor of American Studies and American Literature at the University of Tennessee, writes clearly and avoids the cliches of the politically correct Noble-Indian-vs.-Rapacious-White-Man school of frontier studies. He places Kentucky and the Ohio River basin area in the wider context of the struggle between France and England for control of the territory and, later, the war between the American colonists and the mother country.

He discloses a complex frontier world where Indians and settlers meet, mix, and sometimes marry, commit unspeakable atrocities, make treaties, break treaties, and then commit more atrocities. It is a world where hunting is not a sport but a necessity, and where something as common as salt is so valuable it is worth killing for. At the center of this world is Daniel Boone—forever optimistic, shrewd in the ways of the wilderness, but a mere child in the hands of lawyers, a great marksman, a devoted (if often absent) husband and father, and, above all, a true American pioneer. This is a very good, informative book.

(The scene: The Good Taste Committee of The Biography Reviewers’ Guild. A reviewer stands before the committee, head bowed)

Chairman: Do you have anything to say before we pass sentence?

Reviewer: It’s somebody else’s fault. They keep on sending me these biographies and memoirs of show-biz people to review, and … and … I can’t help myself . . I read one page and I’m hooked.

Chairman: Hooked, indeed. Get a grip on yourself, man. You’re a disgrace to the book reviewers’code of seriousness. Just answer the questions. Did you or did you not read Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra, by George Jacobs and William Stadiem, (HarperEntertainment, $24.95, illus.)?

Reviewer: Yes, but I didn’t mean to. I —

Chairman: Be silent. And isn’t this book, written by Sinatra’s former valet, a wickedly entertaining, unashamedly low-down, raunchy, titillating, tell-all memoir in which the author gossips in salacious detail about the sex lives, foibles, and hijinks of Sinatra and his friends, ranging from John F. Kennedy to Sammy Davis, Jr., and from Marilyn Monroe to Mia Farrow? And isn’t Sinatra portrayed as a case of arrested development, a perpetual adolescent given to uncontrollable temper tantrums one minute and incredible generosity and sensitivity the next? And didn’t you enjoy every page, wallowing in the behind-the-scenes descriptions of who did what to whom and what went on in Sinatra’s Palm Springs home? Answer me, you wretch.

Reviewer: Yes, yes, it’s all true. And if I get the chance, I’ll do it again. I love this kind of thing. If I had my way, that’s all I’d read. Yes, I read it and I’m glad.

Chairman: Typical of this sort—no remorse whatsoever. You need a lesson in seriousness. We therefore condemn you to read, three times, Leon Edel’s biography of Henry James, every single word, no skipping … stop screaming, be a man… and, for the next five years, to review nothing but sensitive memoirs by failed poets with unhappy childhoods.

Reviewer: Oh, no, no, please. Mercy…

Chairman: Guards, take away this sorry excuse for a reviewer. Next case.

William F. Gavin is a writer in McLean, Va.

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